In a "Dateline NBC"/Good Housekeeping exclusive, Hoda Kotbe reports on some of the wacky products you can buy today.
It’s hard to resist those high-tech gizmos you see in some catalogs. You know, those strange-looking gadgets that promise to ease your aches and pains, help you look younger, or even make your clothes fit better. Sometimes they work, but some of these “miracle cures” can turn out to be snake oil. So we put a few of them to the test, and you might be surprised by the results. Hoda Kotbe reports with a “Dateline NBC”/Good Housekeeping exclusive.
A LIP PUMP, a peppermint inhaler, a toe stretcher? Welcome to the world of weird catalog products. You know, the ones most of us wouldn’t dare own up to ordering? But with billions of dollars in catalog sales every year, someone is buying this stuff — even a beeper-like gadget to clean your personal breathing space.
“You wear it around your neck,” says Sharon Franke of the Good Housekeeping Institute. “It sucks in the air. It cleanses it and then discharges it in a stream up to your face. Sounds really ridiculous right?”
Intrigued and more than a tad skeptical, the Good Housekeeping Institute ordered the air purifier for an evaluation of catalog products that seem too good to be true.
“We thought why would this work?” says Franke. “How could this work?” The Institute put a variety of products selected from eight different catalogs to the test, including an odd-looking device for toning your face, masks for sinus pain, even a pants stretcher for those who are “fat.” The products were evaluated by a team of Good Housekeeping staffers who tried them out, along with a panel of doctors, then given a “reality check” rating of zero to five stars.
“We were surprised that some of them work,” says Franke.
So which products made the cut? First, the cho-pat knee strap, which sells for $14.50. Can a simple strap with a velcro fastener really relieve pain? An old knee injury had forced Tracy, a Good Housekeeping employee, to give up kneeling in church. But with the kneestrap on, she even gets right down on the floor.
“I knelt on the marble floor without a kneeler and I had no discomfort whatsoever,” says Tracy. “I love it. It’s great.”
The manufacturer cautions it won’t help all knee problems and Good Housekeeping’s medical experts, who do prescribe the very same strap for their patients, say you should still consult a doctor before ordering from a catalog. The Good Housekeeping reality check? Three out of five stars.
And what about gel-soles? They sell for $15.95, and the catalog claims slipping one into your shoe lets you “say goodbye to hot, sore, miserable feet.” The manufacturer also says the gel-soles have medical endorsements. So how do they stand up?
“It kind of felt uncomfortable because it felt like there was something in my foot that was strange and squishy,” says Dana, a Good Housekeeping staffer.
“They do make it softer and easier to walk on your feet,” says Tony.
The Good Housekeeping staffers gave the gel-soles mixed reviews and orthopedist Dr. William Levine says you can buy over-the-counter insoles that will provide more cushioning.
“I’d be fairly skeptical about recommending this to any of my patients,” says Dr. Levine. So the gel-soles get a Good Housekeeping reality check of just two stars.
The instructions do clearly warn that the suction device may cause bruising and the manufacturer maintains with proper use, it will keep your lips full for up to 12 hours. But plastic surgeon Dr. Bob Tornambe says you might as well go a few rounds with Mike Tyson.
“In my opinion you could accomplish the same thing by getting punched in the mouth,” says Dr. Tornambe. “That causes a fat lip also.” The lip enhancer gets a Good Housekeeping reality check of zero stars. And wouldn’t it be nice if you could sniff your appetite away? For $30, the Aroma Works Suppress Inhaler is supposed to “fool the stomach into thinking your stomach is full.”
“Nobody reported that this works,” says Franke. “And none of the doctors that we consulted knew of any reason why it should work.” In fact, the manufacturer admits it has no medical evidence to support its claims, and told “Dateline” that like anything else, it won’t work for everyone. The Good Housekeeping reality check? Another zero.
And finally, the personal air purifier, and it promises to “eliminate airborne pollutants, allergens and viruses from your breathing space.”
“My eyes would be itching,” says Carol. “My nose would be this extreme tickle, I could be sneezing.”
Normally, cats make Good Housekeeping staffer Carol Wapner downright miserable. But to put the purifier to the test, she agreed to wear it to this adoption center, where she was surrounded by the furry felines. “I feel fine,” says Carol. “I do smell the cat litter I must say.”
Remarkably, even after 25 minutes, Carol didn’t sneeze once. Was it really the purifier? Or could it have been mind over matter? Wein Products, the company that makes the air purifier, insists it really works thanks to what it calls a “revolutionary technology” that destroys pollutants in the air. The company says it has done extensive testing, but makes no medical claims and says this is not a medical device. Instead, it says the proof is in the use, telling “Dateline” it has hundreds of satisfied customers.
Still skeptical, Good Housekeeping turned to its engineers for help. They devised a “smoke test” to see if the air purifier could clear out a tank of smoke. First, they lit a cigarette and allowed it to burn inside the tank, building up a lot of smoke.. Then they put the air purifier in the tank:
“If you look in here you will see that there is no more streams of smoke,” says Jamey. “To our astonishment, it did help the people who wore it,” says Franke, “and it did clear out a tank of smoke. And it’s something that we could recommend to people with a few caveats about the downsides.”
The downside? The price for one — nearly $100. Plus, testers complained it is heavy and unattractive. So, the purifier gets a reality check of three stars. But it gets a gold star from Carol Wapner who never thought she could spend this much time up close and personal with one cat, much less 18!
“No reaction,” says Wapner. “It’s amazing. Thirty minutes, half an hour.” The manufacturer of the air purifier says it now sells a smaller, lighter model that is 20 dollars cheaper (unit is actually more actually, error by dateline).